My installment of the June Lensbaby blog circle takes us back to the Dharma Rain Zen Center, for part II, featuring their extensive grounds & environment, which are open to the public and provide a delightful respite from loud & busy city life. We walk through regularly with our dog Ozzie. If you missed the first post on Dharma Rain or are looking for more context, you can check that out here.
These images were shot with Twist 60, Velvet 85, Edge 50 and Trio 28.
Welcome to my installment of the fourth month of the Lensbaby blog circle. I’m particularly excited about this post because it’s part of a new project that being involved in this circle has pushed me to figure out.
Over the next several months I’m going to share stories from local businesses and organizations, starting very local in my own neighborhood of Madison South, in Portland, Oregon, USA. I tend to be a “choose a place to explore and stumble upon interesting things and moments” kind of shooter, but I wanted to push myself with a project that that had a bit more of a photojournalistic and deliberate component to it. I’ve done these kinds of projects before, they push me more out of my comfort zone, but it had been a while.
My neighborhood of Madison South, in Northeast Portland, is a (mostly) quiet neighborhood that tends to fly under the radar, bordered by 82nd Ave (think car dealerships, strip clubs, fast food restaurants) and – this is key – the impassable Rocky Butte, an extinct volcanic cinder cone. The butte is covered with woods and wildlife, has a picturesque public works-era monument and huge lookout space at the top. Sharing space with that wildlife are some pretty big houses with some of the best views in the city. But you can only go to the top…you can’t go up and then down the other side, so it tends to keep our pocket neighborhood fairly quiet without a lot of through-traffic.
I digress. I spent a rainy afternoon – but one with nice soft light! – officially touring the Dharma Rain Zen Center. I am neither buddhist nor do I practice mediation (though I’ve been thinking of trying meditation) but I spend a lot of time on the grounds of Dharma Rain because it is open to the public, and it’s a huge patch of land with gardens and paths and trails and little patches of woods, that Ozzie and Mike and I traverse regularly on our walks. Built in 2013, it’s an oasis of calm and nature that further shields a huge section of the neighborhood from 82nd Avenue. Every time I’m walking on their property, I am so thankful. I can stand in a field of wildflowers and look up at Rocky Butte and am amazed again that I live within city limits, 7 miles from downtown Portland, and am surrounded by so much nature. I’d been inside some of the buildings very briefly, once before when they hosted a Friends of Trees volunteer day in the neighborhood, and was eager to get back inside.
Below is Dharma Rain’s story, Part I. I took so many photos…and there are so many visual pieces to this story, that next month I’ll continue and feature more of the grounds.
Genko Rainwater, one of the “transmitted teachers” at Dharma Rain, was my host for the afternoon, and she kindly showed me around and answered my questions, and waited patiently for me to get just one more shot.
First stop on the tour was a construction site – two new buildings that look done from the outside, but very much still in the works on the inside. One building will be a new space for the Singing Frog Montessori school that currently splits space with the Dharma Rain administration office. The rest of the space will be dormitories for those who live on the property, and some common space.
This is Genko, above, in her room in one of the dormitories that are still under construction. She spent some time in Mexico and fell in love with the bright, rich colors in everyone’s homes, so decided she wanted something similar in her own space. From just spending a an hour and a half with her, it seems obvious that it matches her personality.
In the midst of our tour we encountered Co-Abbot Kakumyo Lowe-Charde attempting to single-handedly move a sizable water heater up a makeshift (and moveable) ramp. So we pitched in to help (I grabbed these 2 photos quickly first, then joined in pushing the pallet end up the ramp). I’d met Kakumyo before though not officially, a couple of times while walking Ozzie through the property. Ozzie loves him, because he crouches down to pet him, and lets him climb (and slobber) all over him. According to Genko, Kakumyo, beyond his important Co-Abbot duties, pitches in on everything from construction, to grant-writing, to everything in between – he’s very hands-on on every aspect of building the Dharma Rain facility and community.
Dharma Rain used to be housed in a very neat old building near Lensbaby HQ, but they’d outgrown it, and it was continually needing tons of work and upgrades so they started looking at other properties in 2011. They tried to purchase another larger building but ended up losing out to another buyer – but then they found what was a gigantic empty space in Madison South – one of the very few and last undeveloped parcels of land in the city. It provided a blank canvas to realize their vision. Though, along with unlimited possibilities comes the added time and expense of building from scratch, so some things have been slow going.
After our water heater assist, we moved onto the main building which houses the meditation and event space. Off went the shoes, and the tour continued.
The kitchen in this building is amazing (it has six sinks – six!!) and unfortunately none of my photos quite do it justice – it was so gigantic in height and overall space that I really needed the Circular Fisheye – alas, it didn’t occur to me to bring it. Dharma Rain hosts retreats so sometimes they need to cook for up to 40 people at at time.
The building has a huge wrap-around wooden porch, with benches, places for shoes, and beautiful views.
A little bit about my choices of lenses to shoot this project with: mainly Velvet 56 (you can’t go wrong with a nifty fifty and I felt like Velvet’s softness channeled the vibe of Dharma Rain nicely). Velvet 58 for a bit more compression and that longer reach – Trio 28 for the wider scenes. And a different mix for the outdoor shots, which brings me to…
The next Dharma Rain, installment with grounds photos and more story coming next month.
Next up in the blog circle, get a glimpse of Spring through the eye of the talented Birgit Fostervold!
Welcome to the April installment of the Lensbaby Blog Circle! Part of my reason for getting involved in this project was to find some focus for my own photography, which I’ve lost a bit in the past couple of years. If you look back at my posts so far…they still lack focus (beyond, you know, the intentional lack of focus in the blur of Lensbaby photos, ha!)
Anyway. This one is going to be pretty random feeling as well but the exciting thing for me is that through all of this I’ve landed on 2 solid, possibly complimentary ideas that I’ll purse in the coming months. So, May’s post will be something a bit different, and you’ll see a running theme each month after that.
In the meant time, as we are gradually getting drier weather here in the rainy Pacific Northwest, I’ve been walking home from work on Fridays and capturing my take on my foot travels.
These photos are taken with the new Burnside 35, also my new obsession. It has a large, bright central area of focus and, given the right circumstances, swirly bokeh – or subtle blur. You can also add in-camera vignette and adjust the detail in your bokeh – at 4 stops, with a very very fun to use little gold slider on the lens.
It’s the most versatile lens we make IMHO, and makes me feel like I’m shooting film again. Burnside 35 renders wonderful, rich, film-like color saturation. That color, enhanced by the swirl and/or vignette combined with the 35mm focal length – plus the physical feel of the lens itself – make shooting with this lens a film-like experience.
The key to getting that swirly bokeh, like in the image above, is to get close to your subject (3 feet away or closer) and have a lot of separation between your subject and background (12 feet or so). Then your background needs to have texture to take on the swirl – so the rest of the leaves and flowers, with light coming through them, takes on the swirl noticeably.
Images like this one above, where your subject is further away, and your background is fairly flat, will give you subtle softness on your edges but no swirl. That’s when I really like to dial in the vignette to help make the center pop without the help of the swirly bokeh.
It’s month number 2 in the Lensbaby Blog Circle! After you read my post, make sure to follow the link at the bottom to the next Lensbaby blog, and keep going to complete the full circle.
My boyfriend Mike, our dog Ozzie and I take a lot of walks around our hometown of Portland, OR. A LOT. That means that we repeat ourselves. A lot. I usually have my camera in hand, so I’m always trying to come up with more interesting ways to take photos of our wanderings that don’t simply feel like more of the same.
We divide our ramblings into 2 kinds: urban and woods. Though sometimes they’re runs/ramblings because Ozzie is 52 lbs of really, really excited – if super sweet – muscle. He’s well trained but any of the following can send him into crazy-town, including but not limited to: horses, deer, coyotes, mountain bikes, cats, golf carts, anyone running fast, cars driving through puddles and making splashing sounds…you get the idea.
Anyway, we’re lucky to have some great hiking spots full of trails and old growth forest 20 minutes from our house, where Ozzie has 26 feet of Flexi lead to go as crazy as he wants to.
I like to bring a different Lensbaby lens each time we hike or walk, as I know I’ll see things differently with each. From focal length to effect, and the quality of light on a given day – the options for seeing and capturing something differently are endless. This past week I had the added bonus of shooting in SNOW – something of a notable occurrence, as we don’t tend to get much snow in Portland. When the first (actually second – I missed the first when I was away in Florida for Lensbaby at Click Away) storm hit, I grabbed my Velvet 85 in the waning daylight and waxing snow, and headed out for a quick, cold and beautiful neighborhood walk.
All Lensbaby lenses are all manual and don’t have electronics (therefore the camera doesn’t capture metadata like aperture), the f/stops are all educated guesses, so probably about 90-some percent accurate because I know these lenses like the backs of my hands.
A bit more about the Velvet series of lenses (there’s a 56mm and an 85mm) and what they do. They’re art lenses that, at the brightest apertures (for the 56mm, that’s 1.6-2.8 and for the 85 it’s 1.8-2.8) produce images with a soft glow over the entire thing, as you can see above. It’s tack sharp underneath, but it’s got a glowy overlay on top. All that impressionistic goodness comes from the design of the optics combined with a bright aperture. As you stop down to f/4 or darker, the glow goes away, and you have an obviously tack sharp center that still has nice soft fall-off on the edges. I love both of these lenses but enjoy the extra reach and compression the 85mm brings to certain landscape and street scenes like these.
Later the next evening, I encountered this person rounding the corner. I was walking Ozzie, so didn’t look up and ahead until I was pretty close and this impressive 6 or 7 foot tall snow person scared the crap out of me. Which was awesome – so after Ozzie and I completed our walk, of course I grabbed my camera and headed back out.
The Lensbaby Edge Optics (which come in the tilting Composer Pro II lens body) can be the most challenging Lensbaby lenses but also the most rewarding. You have SO much control over the area of focus and blur with this lens, it’s off the hook. Understanding exactly how to control it to get what you want just takes practice. The more you shoot with it, the more you’ll get it. I shot this with the Edge 50 (50mm) Optic.
This scene was pretty easy to shoot because I knew I wanted a vertical slice of focus. I wanted one shot where the sign was totally sharp and the snow person was a ghostly blurry apparition (which was my first split second impression when my heart momentarily leapt into my throat). Then, I knew I wanted to place Sir Snowy Snowster and his snowy grassy plot into sharp focus to show what I saw and realized a moment later. I tilted all the way to the right, and slowly rotated focus back and forth until the slice fell just so. I could have also created a vertical slice by tilting to the left, bug as it was already dark, I wanted to point in the direction of that street light and let as much light into the lens as possible.
The overall rule of thumb with this lens is tilting left/right = vertical slice of focus, up or down = horizontal, and diagonal = diagonal. Also, you’ll use your aperture to control how narrow or wide your slice of focus isIn practice it’s a little more complicated but if you start playing around with those guidelines in mind, it will help you get the hang of it.
Next up in the Lensbaby Blog Circle – the talented John Mee.
A few days ago, armed with my Composer Pro with Sweet 35 Optic, I headed out to shoot for the February Lensbaby Blog Circle. (Each month, a group of Lensbaby photographers will be sharing stories as part of this Blog Circle. Follow along, and see the next person’s post at the end of each blog). I had a loose plan – that I changed – and then came up with a looser plan, which lead me to start my day of wandering & photographing at The Wishing Tree, along one of my old bike commute routes — it had been years since I’d checked it out. I was curious to see what people were wishing for these days.
Most of the wishes older than a year or two were muddied to the point of being illegible – or the ink had disappeared. But some of the newer ones stood out.
Many were kind, thoughtful, and hopeful – for themselves and others.
A few were not…but, perhaps that’s forgivable in the landscape of 2018.
A bit more about the lens I shot this little series with, and why: the Lensbaby Composer Pro is a manual focus tilt lens – it tilts on a ball and socket, kind of like a tripod head. You can put different optics into the body of the lens to get different effects at different focal lengths. I decided to shoot this scene with the Sweet 35 Optic for a few reasons. Sweet 35 will give your images this sweet spot of focus, surrounded by blur (you can control how large the area of focus is with aperture – and where in the frame you place it by the direction you tilt.)
I’ve been shooting at 35mm recently, for the first time in a very long time and have really been enjoying that classic film, street photography focal length. It’s usually a great length to “fit it all” in the frame as well. Plus – with so many wishes – the sweet spot of focus of this lens was the perfect way to draw the viewer’s eye.
I work for Lensbaby – and we make fun, creative, tools for creative, risk-taking, open minded photographers. Our mission is that we help photographers find their visual voice, something I immerse myself in every day. But recently…I realized that as a photographer myself, I’ve gotten a bit waylaid.
For years, I had a very specific style, set of tools, and long-term series. But that sort of ended a couple of years ago, and while I’ve been shooting a lot in that time, I haven’t been very intentional about my voice and my goals.
So, when another Lensbaby photographer put the call out on starting a blog circle, I figured this was a great way to jump into something and hold myself accountable. No idea what that something will be yet but I’m excited to figure it out. More soon!